Saturday, September 28, 2013

Talking about grammar: he's doing it wrong

Kevin Hearne writes a very engaging story. I'm enjoying The Iron Druid series (though Atticus can be a real arrogant jerk at times). But he should stop trying to talk about grammar; he gets the terms wrong. Very wrong.

For instance, in the second book (Hexed) Atticus and Leif the vampire discuss Leif's need to learn to blend in. For instance, Atticus says, he should learn to speak more casually:
"How should I have responded?"

"First, get rid of 'well.' Nobody uses that anymore either. Now they always say 'I'm good.""

Leif frowned. "But that is grammatically improper."

"These people don't care about proper. You can tell them they're trying to use an adjective as an adverb and they'll just stare at you like you're a toad."

"Their educational system has suffered serious setbacks, I see."
And, by the way, this comes up later in the book when Atticus screams at a teacher that taking attendance is "what you're best at, because the gods know it's not teach them English. Damn kids don't know the difference between an adjective and an adverb!"

Problem is, "well" isn't an adverb in "I'm well." Well is two different words in English. One is the adverb of "good" but the other is an adjective meaning "not sick". (Actually, of course, there are a lot of wells - there's the noun that you get water from, and the verb meaning to rise to the surface and flow over, and the interjection... ) When you answer the question "How are you?" with "I'm doing well", you're using the adverb, but if you say, as Leif did, "I am well," then you're using the adjective. (By the way, his actual answer was: "While I am well, not so jocund as you." Jocund? A freaking adjective, is it not?)

The copula (linking verb to be) takes a predicate nominative, meaning an adjective, not an adverb. "Well" is modifying "I" in that sentence, unlike the "well" in "I'm doing well", where it's modifying the verb. Just so it's "The dog is black" not "blackly"; "the house is large" not "largely"; "the shirt is red" not "redly". If you (or Hearne, or Leif) wants to complain about "I'm good", you or he should feel free. Just don't complain that "good" is an adjective, because (a) it has to be after is, and (b) so is well!!!.

And then this in Hunted:
"Mr. O'Sullivan? What are you doing here?"

"Miss Sokolowski. I could ask you the same."

"It's Sokołowska in Poland. There are genitive endings on names here that I didn't bother with in America."
No no no no no.

That's a GENDER ending. It's not a GENITIVE ending. Those are very different things. One indicates the class (or gender or declension pattern) of the word, and the other is its case, that is, the grammatical function. Thus, Sokołowska is the feminine form of Sokołowski, which is the masculine form. But it - both of them - is the nominative. The genitive ending would be -iej for the feminine and iego for the masculine.

So Hearne sort of knows what he's talking about. But he doesn't know the terms to use. And that makes his characters sound stupider than they're meant to.

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